Hello best life seekers!
Are you trying to eat healthy? Does the trip to the grocery store overwhelm you with all its options on top of your lists of dos and don’ts when it comes to buying food? Does it all seem a bit too confusing?
Here are 3 easy shopping rules for eating for health. They are how I lost weight and maintain it at a healthy level while also reversing some serious health issues by focusing on shopping for nutrition and life. These are easy rules. You’ll be shocked by how easy and by the results you see in your well-being by following them.
Rule 1: Shop the outside ring of the grocery store
I can hear the howls now! What? What about the chips, cookie and cola aisles? What about the cereal and pasta aisles. OMG! Yep, for best nutrition and health, shop the outside ring of the grocery store which usually contains produce, dairy, meat, deli, the bakery, and sometimes seeds and nuts. Not everything in these areas is healthy. I mean, you can buy cookies and donuts there, all sorts of extravagances really.
The point of shopping the outer ring is that in generial, the area actually contains FOOD. Fresh vegetables and fruit are food. For carnivores, the fresh meat is FOOD. Everything else in the grocery store besides dried beans and dried grains is a food product.
What? What was that? What did I mean by food product? Basically everything else is just processed food of some sort and contains so little nutrition it’s laughable. That and whatever is sitting on those shelves without need of refridgeration can’t really be called food, especially not with all the preservatives, chemicals and who knows what else that went into producing it. Even the food industry calls things like microwavable meals “food products.”
Real food is fresh. It spoils. If it’s not going to spoil, don’t eat it.
Okay, I’m not saying never shop down the other aisles. Just do it strategically. Frozen vegetables and fruit are the next best thing to fresh. Grabbing frozen fish filets is convenient. These will be in the frozen foods aisle. Dried beans and grains usually sit on interior shelves. In general though, after buying those items, beware of everything else.
The standard American diet is 68% processed food – you know, that stuff sitting on the shelves in the main aisles in boxes and packages. Ever wonder why we’ve all got diabetes, kidney disease, cancer, and experience strokes and pre-diabetes at alarming rates? Take a good hard look at those center aisles that contain little nutrition and shop the outer ring of your grocery store for the fresh, whole foods, making forays for frozen varieties or legumes and dried grains.
The products on all those other shelves should count for less than 30% of your shopping, far less if you’re not vegetarian (carnivors should be eating 70% fresh foods other than meat). These items should supplement your other purchases, not be the main course unless it’s sparingly. Understand that this stuff is a food product or junk, or at least somewhat processed. Whatever nutrition is in it pales in comparison to what you’ll get in the areas discussed previously.
Rule 2: Read labels for their ingredients
Before you toss anything into your cart, turn it over and look at the ingredients list. The less ingredients anything has, the better it probably is for you. That’s my rule of thumb. If it’s on a shelf, it’s going to need preservatives, added chemicals for taste, and emulsifiers for consistency. For a real education on processed foods, read Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss or Food Inc: How Industrial Food Is Making Us Sicker, Fatter, and Poorer – And What You Can Do About It by Karl Weber. You’ll never look the same way at ingredients or shelf “food” again.
Unless you can conjure the ingredient in your mind as an actual whole food, consider it a preservative or some other sort of manufactured chemical for flavor or consistency. You’ll find high fructose corn syrup in nearly everything since it’s both a sweetener and preservative, among other things. So is sugar and corn syrup, also frequently found in everything. I’ve even discovered them in the ingredients for the sushi at the deli. Really? In sushi?
WARNING: Items you might assume are one ingredient aren’t always so. Produce and meat should really only have one ingredient, right? Same for dried beans and a few other things. However, the food industry is sneaky. By habit one day, I looked at the label for ground pork on a package I had picked up. The ingredients read: pork, natural flavors. I was like, “They’re putting natural flavors in the butcher section now?”. If you’re savvy, you know “natural flavors” are anything but natural. They’re chemical creations and nothing like the flavorings or spices you and I would assume them to be.
Another example: Looking at coconut milk ingredients across brands I find everything from “coconut milk, guar gum” to “coconut milk, water, potassium metabisulfite” to “coconut extract, water, citric acid, sodium metabisulfite” and others. Your simple can of corn will contain more than corn. Turn it over and see. Claims about “low salt” are amusing since manufacturers simply substitute out sodium cloride for potassium chloride, probably even worse for you and still a form of salt. Meanwhile, during the canning process most food gets heated, treated and processed – losing a lot of nutrition.
Most of my shopping comes from the produce section but whatever I buy that has a food label, I instictively turn it over to read the ingredients. So yeah, check the labels on everything, even that ground beef or soy sauce you just picked up. Buy the “food” with the shorter, less scary ingredients. Definitely stay away from anything with high fructose corn syrup or its iterations. Start paring down from there. And remember, these are only the ingredients they are by law required to disclose. Who knows what else is actually in this stuff…
Rule 3: Read the serving label
Most people, if they bother to investigate their food, start with this label. To me, it’s the least informative. If you have to read calorie info and how many carbs, protein, etc, the “food” has, you may be a leg up on most of the population on the American diet but you still really don’t know what proper nutrition is. At least you’re investigating your health and we all have to start somewhere!
I used to read this label but since switching to a diet of 90% fresh fruits and veggies, nuts, legumes and seafood, I know all my nutritional needs are met. No more searching out the iron or Vitamin C amounts. Health really comes from the ingredients you put in your body, not the calories you consume. Don’t believe me? Eat 100 calories of beef or coca cola or grapes or bread or fish and tell me they’re not going to impact your health diffrently. Or your waistline. They will. Studies back this up. For sobering reading with medical research behind it, read The Case Against Sugar or Why We Get Fat, both by Gary Taubes.
While you’re weaning yourself off processed foods and processed shelf items, looking at labels can prove somewhat useful. Probably the best info is in the sugar content, especially since half of Americans are either diabetic or pre-diabetic. A pack of table sugar is roughly 2.5 to 3 grams. So when you see something with sugars over 9 grams, understand you are roughly consuming 3 packets of sugar per serving. That bottled Starbucks latte looks pretty terrible now doesn’t it? Salt is the second most useful number to know.
Labels may also help you with vitamins and minerals but the labels rarely list all the food’s nutrients. Usually they just list vitamin A & C, iron or one or two others, but rarely more than 4 nutrients. Not very helpful.
At best labels are a starting point. Calorie counts can warn you of unexpected surprises, as much as the other numbers will. The best use of this label is understanding daily allowances. Are you about to shove 50% or more of your daily salt or sugar or protein or carbs into your mouth? If so, probably best to put this item back on the shelf and find a healthier alternative.
Shopping for Health
Buying groceries requires a new understanding of “food” if you’re trying to lose weight, reverse illnesses or simply have good health. For optimum health, every study seems to agree on whole foods, mostly fruits and vegetables, being what we need to consume most in the day. Start by inverting the food habits of the typical American by eating 68% fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes and nuts, with the remaining 32% devoted to meat/seafood (if you’re a carnivore), grains (go for non-gluten foods), and sweets. Just doing this will improve your health drastically.
To reiterate, to get the most health out of your grocery shopping experience:
- Shop the outer ring of the grocery store in the fresh foods sections for your fruits, vegetables, meats, and seeds/nuts
- Read the label for ingredients and try to buy only those with the shortest list since anything you can’t understand or pronounce probably isn’t nutritious and may in fact be harmful
- Read the serving label to see if the item contains useful nutrients or if the sugar and sodium levels are high, etc.
Healthy shopping requires learning about food. Every day new research comes out about what’s harmful or helpful, with ingredients crossing back and forth at dizzying speed. What doesn’t seem to change are the staples like fresh vegetables, fruits, and legumes. Make these your priority, the fresher the better, and eat sparingly of everything else in the grocery store.
70% of your food should come from the fresh foods and whole food aisles – fruits and vegetables, meat/seafood, legumes and nuts. Once you leave those spaces, know that everything else short of whole grains is a food product with multiple ingrediants, especially preservatives. When you pick up anything, turn it over to read the ingredients so you know what you’re putting into your body. You’ll find different brands of the same item have drastically different ingredients. Go with the one which has the least harmful ingredients, then double-check the daily value table for vitamins and minerals, sugar, sodium, then carbs and fat to confirm if the item is within the limits you want. Do this for optimum health.
Still feeling overwhelmed? Eating for health takes re-learning what it means to eat for life. These books helped me in my journey to understand what real food really is. In the process I turned around my deteriorating health and feel as energetic and vital as I did in my 20s.
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